Worcester County has shown an incredible lack of compassion toward the residents of White Horse Park. It came to surface this week why that might be the case.
After last month’s decision to reject a text amendment to give some of the residents the ability to live there year-round despite the current law prohibiting it, the county immediately went forward with crafting an enforcement plan that includes fines and citations if the code is not followed.
Worcester County Commissioner Bud Church had unsuccessfully sought a six-month grace period for these residents, which combined with the permitted six-month occupancy would have given the elderly residents a year to find a new living situation.
“In my opinion there’s too much urgency on getting those people out of there,” Church said. “Everyone’s in too big of a rush. I agree they should not be there, but I think there’s some hardship consideration that needs to be addressed.”
We support Church’s attempt at a compromise because the county has culpability here. It was the county who did not enforce the existing law in the first place, resulting in these residents establishing year-round occupancy. However, the majority of his colleagues did not support the effort to work with the residents. They were not open to even considering any sort of hardships, including their limited income and age.
The lack of sympathy could be the result of an anonymous threatening phone call to at least one commissioner from one of the residents about to be displaced. Law enforcement has been brought into the fold and reportedly tracked the phone number to a country overseas. These sorts of rogue actions accomplish nothing and in this case probably contributed to the commissioners’ tough stance.
Nonetheless, at least five residents, through their attorney, are seeking relief against the county’s enforcement plan through appeals to the county’s zoning board next month. The story will continue.
The comments at City Hall on Monday in the aftermath of the unsanctioned H2Oi weekend deserve revisiting. I personally liked what I heard this week compared to last week’s tough talk press conference. There was discussion this week about accountability, collaboration and respect. Here are some highlights.
Business owner/resident Michele Knopp: “It seemed to really start getting bad about five years ago. A lot of them come into the restaurant and they literally hang the tickets they have collected around their necks and brag about them. For the first time ever, I am nervous driving down the road and I have never felt scared in this town before. … I know they want to have a good time, but a lot of them just come here to cause problems. I know a lot of them hate the Ocean City police. When you come into town and have ‘F**K the OCPD’ on your car, that doesn’t go over well. Right now, we’re 10 steps behind and it seems like they are always 10 steps ahead of us.”
Resident Sherry Hott: “The best thing I can put forth is forming a new task force with different types of people. Maybe we need a couple of their people that are willing to come down here and sit with everyone to begin to pound out what we can do to stop these problems. … Seriously, you need to do something to keep those guys busy if they’re going to come here.”
Resident Martin Branagan: “A few years ago during the riots in Baltimore, the mayor at the time said give them room to destroy. The only reason the city wasn’t destroyed is because the governor called in the National Guard. I don’t think anyone wants to see that happen, but that’s where this is heading if there isn’t real change. I said last year this event has gotten to the point that somebody is going to die. I have no doubt about that now.”
Participant Nigel James; “This is a relationship that has both sides reacting to one another. You have continued to push this group into a corner by elevating fines and targeting them. … This has been a concentrated effort of prejudice against a specific group. This has been a strong desire to keep out people who might look different than you or have different interests than you. These efforts have resulted in anger. What you don’t realize is this group looks forward to this event all year. Some of these people cannot connect to one another without this group. … I believe we can sit at the table together and form a new task force and begin working to make this a win-win for everyone.”
Councilman John Gehrig: “I want to personally apologize. We have taken very little real action and you should hold all of us accountable. There is no question people are going to die. Lowering the speed limit on a gridlocked road is not a solution. Our hands are tied a little, but we should be bold. We should be held accountable. I appreciate the car community, but it’s a respect issue. You are not going to get some of these enforcement efforts to go away if you don’t respect the community. It’s embarrassing to the community and it’s embarrassing for you guys. I’m willing to jump in with respect, but it has to be reciprocated. You guys need to police yourselves, then we can start talking about working with you.”